Saturday, January 19, 2013

Dreaming Big, a catalyst for Divine Generosity

 A reflection on the Gospel for Epiphany 2C: John 2:1-11

The other day someone asked me why the Vestry decided to spend the money to send the delegation to Liberia instead of just giving that money to the church in Liberia for the school. I thought it was an excellent question. The Vestry struggled through long discussions for many months regarding how to develop this project. It came to the Vestry from the Undesignated Gifts Fund Committee. For more on the Undesignated Gifts Fund and process see the insert in your bulletin. The information was also emailed to those on our email list and will be included in the annual Parish Report for 2012.

 In the end the answer was simple; the Vestry wanted this project to be about more than just money, they wanted it to be about building a relationship between that community and us. We just didn’t know how to do this. The Vestry was uncertain how to manage the money aspect because it can be complicated to send money into Africa. Certain safeguards need to be in place to ensure that the church actually receives the funds. We were advised that sending too much money into Africa all at once could be problematic and destabilize the economy. So the Vestry determined that the solution to gain answers for all of our questions and concerns was to send a delegation over to listen and learn.  

So the work began. We commissioned the delegation in church on November 11 and they proceeded to get travel arrangements in order. And last week they headed off. It took them twenty-five and half hours of travel to get there, including a two hour delay in Paris due to weather. But from what they say, their arrival made it all worth-while. They were greeted at the airport in Monrovia by sixteen members of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd who treated them like celebrities. The mood was joyous and celebratory. Erika sent me a text saying that the people there are “incredulous that someone in America wants to help them build this school.”

Here is some of what they have posted on Facebook about their journey:

The landscape is much different than expected: lots of trees but also lots of hills. The people are VERY friendly and our celebratory welcome from last night has carried over to today.

The weather is VERY HOT and HUMID! After sunset last night it was still 84 degrees F. During the day the temperatures reach well into the 90’s. At night, the condensation from the humidity drips off the metal roofs and sounds like rain. In the morning the wooden decks are so wet they look like they’ve been hosed down.

Our visit with Bishop Hart began at 11am who told us that the School of the Good Shepherd is a project that started years ago with research and hopeful dreaming. The project has developed to the point where the Ground Breaking ceremony (today) is another beginning.

As we were walking down the hall to the luncheon, we heard singing…a noonday service had just begun. Our group, our Christ Church delegation, Good Shepherd Sr. Warden and Vestry, and some of our cathedral hosts joined the service. The sermon was one that touched us all; the priest challenged us to think about our call to ministry and how we will broaden our influence and hope for the world.

The unexpected nervous moment today involved radio interviews. Daniel and Jamie did the first interview with Radio Monrovia (ELRM) and Edwina and I did the second interview with the Liberia Broadcasting System (ELBC), the National Radio Station

Our hotel serves a complimentary breakfast, so this is how we’ve started our days. We talk about the day to come, although, we really don’t know what to expect…. For instance, on this second day we were to go to the Church of the Good Shepherd’s “Outreach”.….we found out that Outreach means that they have started a second, smaller church farther into the country but still in Paynesville. It took us over an hour to travel a distance of approximately 10 miles. The roads are in very poor condition and the people of Liberia sell their goods along the side of the road; sometimes taking up parts of both lanes of traffic making it all but impossible for 2 cars to pass.

Good Shepherd started this outreach mission church of the Good Samaritan on the porch of a home. Since this church started on private property Good Shepherd bought 1 acre of land down the road: another spiritual dream in the making. Other dreams include building a church building and perhaps a school and medical clinic to serve this poorer population. The people here in Liberia dream BIG, as they know that if they don’t, no one will.

The children’s choir of Good Samaritan sang like angels, both in English and in their tribal tongue, truly enjoying themselves and lifting their voices to God.

The third day started with a 1-hour drive to the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd. A long table was set up in the churchyard…The architect provided one set of drawings in print and we were able to conduct our meeting, get a lot of information about their school project, the limitations, dreams and initial thoughts about where they’re headed.

Musu is the name of a person and also a local restaurant owned by a parishioner and Vestry member of the Church of the Good Shepherd. Musu has provided our midday meals each day and the feast we had tonight, topped it all. Ocean crab (with no utensils to crack the shell; we resorted to biting it to retrieve the crab meat), spare ribs, bbq river shrimp (they look a little like crawfish and are delicious), and fresh grilled fish (picture a large fish, grilled but looking like it was just plucked from the sea, on a platter), bong (an indigenous vegetable similar to a potato) and sweet potato fries were on the menu. Everything was delicious, especially the crab and grilled fish, so fresh. Outside, under a shelter, it was still very hot and humid, but nothing a beer couldn’t wash away. On another day we had Chard rice, chicken, cuda (Barracuda served with a light cream sauce) and fruit. The food has been good and plentiful; Wilbert Clarke (Good Shepherd senior warden) keeps telling us to “eat, drink, you’re on vacation”. We do as we are told, sometimes, but have kept our focus on the project at hand…at God’s hand.

As I read these daily updates and the photographs being posted on the Christ Church Facebook page I am profoundly grateful for the wisdom of our Vestry and their decision to send over a team of people to learn and listen.

Our readings today from the Gospel of John directly connect to this reality, to our delegation to Liberia and the Good Shepherd school project.

Listen again to the conversation between the mother and Jesus:
Mother says, “They have no wine.”
Son replies, “What concern is that to you and to me?”
Mother, knowing full well what her son is capable of, says to the staff  “Do whatever he tells you.”
Jesus the son, perhaps with that kind of sigh that kids give their parents from time to time, says to the staff “Fill the jars with water.”

The mother of Jesus is a catalyst to Jesus’ extravagant divine generosity, the love, hospitality, and compassion of God that is lived out in the life of Jesus. And Christians, by virtue of being heirs of Jesus’ mother are likewise called to go on prodding divine generosity – to push for the ways in which love, compassion, and hospitality are revealed in the world.

The wedding feast at Cana and the sign of Jesus turning water into wine remind us that God desires life to include joy and celebration. Throughout his life and his ministry, Jesus celebrated people—people getting married, people being healed of disease and deformity, people enjoying meals together, people growing in faith and finding new life. Jesus carried a spirit of celebration with him wherever he went as he proclaimed a God of mercy and peace and joy.[i]  

We too can be like Jesus’ mother, prodding the divine into action. As one person from the delegation said on Facebook: the project has grown in (her) interest to include a global vision of what’s good for the world: EDUCATION and following your heart to do ‘good’ in the world.

We can use this gift of money given as a bequest from Mary Jane and Earl Bergeron to do good, to celebrate life, to make a difference in the world, to bring joy to others, and to help BIG dreams come true. And I suspect, because this is how divine generosity works,  if we go forward with this church school project, the real gift is one we will receive back, one waiting to be revealed, one that will be abundant, profound and transformational, like turning water into wine. 

[i] Feasting On The Word for Epiphany 2C


Sharon said...

You gave your congregation a great gift with this sermon. This is wonderful!

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful! Excellent idea to connect the Gospel passage with work that your congregation is doing. (Also, I think it's fantastic that you are not just sending money, but sending people to build bridges...thereby helping to build the kingdom!)

Gaye said...

I live in a similar poor African country and often we feel like forgotten lepers. That your people would come and share themselve and not just throw money at the problem is a healing gift.

Mary Beth said...

Because, it really IS all about the relationships we build.

Mary Beth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Purple said...

What an amazing trip for your church to undertake. Looking forward to more reflections. Thanks for sharing.

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